I know what you’re thinking. Which scene in the 2005 film Goal! does Erik Lamela’s Tottenham career resemble most? It’s a question that keeps me awake at night, too. To save time I’ll just tell you that it’s the bit when the film’s hero, Santiago Muñez, Hollywood’s favourite asthmatic Central American, is asked to demonstrate his footballing credentials in a practice match with some other young Newcastle United hopefuls. It’s p*ssing down with rain, obviously.
Hard tackles thunder in, luminous training bibs are splattered with mud; meanwhile our Mexican fish-out-of-water is having an absolute shocker. The natives’ roughhousing is all too much to cope with.
That is until, in a zip of as yet unseen genius, Santiago (or Zantee, as Anna Friel’s plain-speaking Geordie physio names him) flicks the ball over Lumbering English Defender #1 and leaves him with nothing to do but shake his stupid head. Bloody foreign show-off, his internal monologue appeared to say. The assortment of coaches and proper-football-types on the sidelines nod harmoniously. Yeah, this kid might have something.
That’s Erik Lamela that is. In a nutshell. Only instead of looping-ball-over-grizzled-English-lump, read: doing-a-rabona-in-a-Europa-League-group-stage-match. Little wisps of gold dust amongst the mud.
Indeed, most of what we’ve witnessed of Lamela’s time at White Hart Lane has been difficult to watch. Once heralded as the successor to Lionel Messi by Ossie Ardiles, Spurs look to have vacuumed every ounce of potential out of him. His life now reduced to a series of confusing twenty-minute cameos in which he bombs about the pitch aimlessly, giving away fouls and possession as if they were pink arcade tokens and he’d jimmied open the dispenser.
Whatever the cause of his struggles - cultural dissonance, perhaps not being able adjust to the physicality of the Premier League or just Tim Sherwood’s banter being far too spicy- Lamela’s appearances have become a flurry of nervous energy. Like a spooked baby goat running around the paddock looking for his mother. Scared of failing, unsure of his undoubted talents.
It’s those moments of sorcery, however, that leave you to wonder. Ones which compel you to leap from your seat and hurl your reservations out the window. Ignore the stats, overlook the inconsistency, let the romantic in you yell: there’s a player in there somewhere!
These instances might be few and far between - that rabona feels like an awfully long time ago now- they’re at least enough for his manager not to give up hope. Glen Foy never gave up on Santi Muñez and goddamnit Mauricio Pochettino isn’t about to admit defeat on his fellow countryman yet.
Now is the moment for Erik Lamela, that’s Pochettino’s verdict, following the young Argentine’s pivotal cameo at the Stadium of Light last weekend; one in which Spurs saw glimpses of the player they thought they’d paid £26m for, two and a bit seasons ago. And, after another positive contribution against Quarabag in the Europa League on Thursday night, there’s a feeling that if he’s going to turn things around, these are the types of foundations on which to build. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow, and all that.
Crystal Palace are the opponents this weekend, in the Sunday lunchtime kick-off. With Heung-Min Son smiling and scoring his way into the hearts of Spurs fans against Azerbaijan’s finest, and likely into Pochettino’s first-team plans, it’s possible Lamela’s career regeneration might have to start from the bench. Another significant involvement in a Spurs win against Pardew’s side, however, and the renaissance can begin. Ooh I wonder who’ll play him in the movie?